Now that he has Terrell Owens, will Trent Edwards be a top-15 fantasy quarterback?
In his first full season teamed with Jeff Garcia in San Francisco (2000), Terrell Owens caught 97 passes for 1,451 yards and 13 touchdowns, and Garcia was fantasy football's second most valuable quarterback. When Owens switched to the Eagles in 2004, he caught 77 balls for 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns in just 14 games, helping Donovan McNabb become fantasy's third most valuable QB. And when he jumped to the Cowboys in 2006, T.O. grabbed 85 passes for 1,180 yards and 13 scores, helping a kid named Tony Romo win the starting QB gig and then throw 15 touchdowns in the season's final nine weeks. The following season, Owens caught 16 TDs, and Romo was fantasy's second best QB.
Yes, T.O. always eventually wears out his welcome. But his initial burst of smiling, pouting and frantic on-camera ab-crunching tends to enhance his new team's offensive performance. Now that he's 36 (he turns 37 in December), can Owens pull the quarterback booster-rocket act one more time, on Bills second-year starter Trent Edwards?
I think it's possible, if somewhat improbable. Edwards enters the 2009 season as a member of the Don't Beat Your Own Team school of quarterbacking. In '08, he completed 65.5 percent of his passes, good for the fourth best rate in the NFL. But he also never threw for more than 289 yards in a game and had seven starts in which he failed to eclipse 200 yards. Plus, he threw only 11 touchdowns while tossing 10 picks and losing five fumbles. After a fine 4-0 start, the Bills quickly started rolling downhill when Edwards suffered a Week 5 concussion, and a sore passing shoulder bothered him in December. On the season, Buffalo featured the 10th-heaviest run/pass mix in the NFL, as befits coach Dick Jauron's image as a conservative offensive game planner.
But there are happy signs for Edwards. First, with the arrival of Owens, the Bills have arguably one of the top three wideout tandems in the NFL; T.O. and Lee Evans probably rank behind Larry Fitzgerald/Anquan Boldin and Randy Moss/Wes Welker, but that might be just about it. You don't need me to draw you a diagram; opposing defenses can't double-team everyone. Just as exciting for Edwards' fantasy prospects is the fact that it appears offensive coordinator Turk Schonert will be let loose to run the high-tempo, no-huddle offense he promised in '08. Last season, Jauron didn't let Schonert have the reins, which led to Edwards checking down to shorter routes an alarming amount of the time. This season, it seems the Bills are far more committed to rekindling the Jim Kelly days. Anyone who watched them play in Sunday's Hall of Fame Game noticed the lack of huddles, the fast pace and (to be honest) the multitude of mistakes. But at least the Bills seem like they'll press the issue.
Now, it would be a mistake to say Edwards is instantly ready to be Kelly or Boomer Esiason. He's played in 24 NFL games. And it's wrong to say a no-huddle offense automatically means a run/pass mix that's heavily weighted toward throwing; in fact, the Run 'N' Shoot offense has "Run" in the title for a reason. But these training camp developments could mean more plays, which obviously would put pressure on opposing defenses and get Edwards more total attempts. He's known around the NFL as a smart kid who's poised in the pocket and who can make the kind of quick, correct decisions you need in the no-huddle. Of course, he also made a pretty obvious blunder on the Bills' first series of preseason play, when he felt pressure and forced a pass to Evans that was intercepted, rather than look the other way and hit a wide-open Josh Reed. Still, with Marshawn Lynch suspended for the season's first three games, one would imagine the onus will be on Edwards to make a bunch of plays in September. I dare say he won't go the season's first month without passing for 300 yards at least once.
All right, so I've discussed the possibility that Edwards could turn into a fantasy factor in 2009. But will he? Will he break into the top 15 among fantasy quarterbacks or even threaten the top 10, as Owens' previous battery mates have done? I'm going to say no, and here's why: the offensive line. I know left tackle Jason Peters didn't have a very good season after holding out of training camp last summer, but his departure to Philadelphia really hurts. Langston Walker, who didn't play all that well at right tackle last season, moves to Edwards' blind side, which, if you remember "False Start" Walker from his Oakland days, is a bit of a frightening proposition. In addition, it seems like the Bills will rely on two rookies to make their Week 1 starting lineup -- the two guards might be Eric Wood and Andy Levitre. And Brad Butler, a former guard, is supposed to be the new right tackle. All I can say is that Edwards had better have a quick release and wear down opposing edge rushers, because otherwise, he's going to take a beating.
So no, I don't think it would be wise to rely on Edwards to be your starting fantasy quarterback. But I'm all in favor of waiting to draft a No. 1 QB, grabbing him late-ish (say, McNabb or Matt Schaub) and then taking Edwards as a backup. Because despite an '08 performance that consisted of precious little downfield action, Edwards might be put in position this season to revel in the First-Year T.O. Bump, complete with some no-huddle goodness.